Several of you have asked for my take on that weighty and intimidating subject, “How to Approach a Gallery”. So here goes:
- Have a name like Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keefe, or Howard Terpning.
Most of the 6 billion of us (give or take) on this planet don’t, so: what distinguishes your art? what sets it apart? craft, technique, subject? What is your 30-second “elevator pitch” about your work? (mine is “painting today’s Wild West – wildlife, horses, rodeo – with a contemporary flair”)
- Have a professional set of business materials
…including website (required!), bio, business cards, email address (skip the “firstname.lastname@example.org” sort of thing), and a portfolio (see next)
- Have a deep portfolio
…meaning, at least 10 to 20 images that are outstanding and representative of your work and style. These can be on your website, but must be well-presented (professionally photographed, cropped, and edited) and ready to email or print out. I use Photoshop day in and day out to prepare my images for web, emailing, CD/exhibition, and print. I also have a setup to photograph my paintings myself (a subject for another blog post!), and I take them to a pro when I want super high-res (eg, 100 MB) photos shot with a large-format digital back. (These are necessary for licensing use, and high-res digital backs cost thou$and$).
- Have a ‘gallery attack plan’
Which galleries are you going to submit to? Why?
Have you visited them?
Will your work (a) fit and (b) complement what is already there? Can you articulate this?
Have you called to ask for their submission protocol?
- Consider ‘networking’ into a gallery
Do you know artists who already show there?
Do you have collectors who patronize the gallery who can speak on your behalf?
OK, so this is an incredibly superficial look at approaching a gallery. There are plenty of books that deal with this in necessary depth (Cay Lang’s “Taking the Leap” comes to mind) and I heartily recommend you utilize those.
For those who wanted to know how I go about doing it…it’s confession time: all the galleries I’m in called me first. My dealers saw my work in magazines or at exhibitions and followed up. I owe a lot of this to the exposure I received from being in the Arts for the Parks Top 100 four times, and I admit to sadness that AFTP is no more – it was a great venue for unknown artists (yours truly).
Once you get into a gallery or two, it becomes easier to approach other galleries: you have credibility (hopefully) from having dealt with your existing galleries in a professional manner and with integrity. (Hot tip: never, EVER do an end-run around a gallery. In my workshops, I tell stories I’ve heard from dealers about this. They find out).
My most recent gallery switch came when the gallery I was with in a certain town clearly was not enamored of the direction my work was going. I considered my other options in that town – a location I wanted very much to remain in – and decided Gallery A might be a good fit. I know artists who show there, talked to them about joining Gallery A, and one of those artists (a well-known and superb painter) even ‘greased the skids’ with Gallery A’s dealer for me. Before I approached Gallery A, however, I called up a collector of mine who had also done a dynamite job selling my work in a short stint with a Whitefish gallery, and asked for his recommendations on approaching Gallery A. He listened to my story, gave me excellent advice, then asked me to hold off on approaching Gallery A.
Two weeks later he called to offer me a chance to show with Gallery B – a gallery I’d dreamed of being with for years! This collector of mine was the new manager at Gallery B and wanted me there (but couldn’t tell me until it was announced publicly…though I had an inkling). So I ended up not going with Gallery A…but would recommend a similar approach to any gallery.
And finally (kudos if you’ve actually read this far!) … not everyone’s work / style fits the ‘gallery model’. Be honest about yours. Would it do better if you sold it yourself at art fairs and festivals? or if you licensed or self-licensed it on clothing or cards? or via direct sales from a website, friends, family? The digital age offers us far more opportunities to sell our work than existed even 10 years ago – use them!Tags: business